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Japan in a Word

オリパラ

Oly-Para (Olympics and Paralympics)

There’s just one year to go until Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, so to help you prepare we’re here to share all the Japanese you’ll need to know for オリパラ (oripara)!

There are a variety of words to talk about the Olympics in Japanese, starting with オリパラ, which is short for オリンピック・パラリンピック (orinpikku pararinpikku; Olympic Paralympic). You might also see it written as 五輪 (gorin; five rings), especially in newspapers where space is limited and shorter words are necessary. What about its official name? 東京オリンピック・パラリンピック競技大会 (Tōkyō orinpikku pararinpikku kyōgi taikai ; The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games) …No wonder it’s shortened to オリパラ!

There will be five events added in 2020: 野球・ソフトボール (yakyῡ/sofutobōru; baseball/softball), 空手 (karate), スポーツクライミング (supōtsu kuraimingu; sport climbing), サーフィン (sāfin; surfing), and スケートボード (sukētobōdo; skateboarding). The chosen sports are an interesting mix of Japanese favourites and new sports to appeal to younger generations.

Japan has also created the adorable mascots ミライトワ (Miraitowa) andソメイティ (Someity), who represent the Olympics and Paralympics respectively. Their names draw on Japanese and English concepts inspired by the Tokyo Olympics: ミライトワ is based on the Japanese words 未来(mirai; future) and 永久 (towa; eternity), and ソメイティcomes from ソメイヨシノ(somei yoshino), a type of cherry blossom, and the English phrase “so mighty”!

So, if you’re planning on visiting Tokyo in 2020, make sure to take some snaps with these cute mascots, check out some of the new Olympic sports, and cheer on your favourite country with the Japanese catchcry “ファイト!” (faito!; fight!).

 

More information is available on the official website for The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

National Stadium for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.
Shuets Udono, 2007 [CC BY 2.0] (Flickr)

The Nippon Budokan, the official Olympic venue for judo and karate.
Aaron Webb, 2010 [CC BY 2.0] (Flickr)

令和時代

Reiwa Era

On May 1, 2019 a new 天皇 (tennō; Emperor) assumed the Chrysanthemum Throne, and with him comes a new 時代 (jidai; era/period) for Japan: the 令和時代 (Reiwa jidai; Reiwa Era).

Since the beginning of the 明治時代 (Meiji jidai; Meiji Era) in 1868, eras have aligned with the reigning Emperor of the time. Before this era names changed frequently after significant events such as disasters or for celebrations. Now these era names are chosen as the posthumous title of the Emperor, and symbolise hopes for the years of their reign. For example, the era of His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who reigned from 1989 until his 退位 (taii; abdication) this year, was named 平成 (Heisei; 1989-2019). 平 (hei) means peace, and 成 (sei) means become, so together the meaning for 平成 becomes “achieving peace”, and symbolises the hope that peace at home will lead to good relations abroad. The kanji for 令和 (Reiwa) was chosen to mean “beautiful harmony” or “auspicious peace”.

Era dates are commonly used on official documents, in オフィス (ofisu; offices) and 学校 (gakkō; schools), and for 生年月日 (seinengappi; birth dates). It’s not unusual to hear people refer to themselves as being born, for example, in 昭和50年 (showa gojῡnen; the 50th Year of Showa), rather than 1975. Eras are also used to mark cultural periods in the same way that decades are. The Showa era / Heisei era generational divide is much like the Baby Boomers and Millennials in Australia! You can find out your own birth year according to the Japanese era system by following the guide below.

We hope that this new era will be one of beautiful harmony for you!

 

Modern eras in Japan
江戸(徳川) Edo (Tokugawa)  1603–1868
明治     Meiji              1868–1912 (Meiji 1-45)
大正     Taishō           1912–1926 (Taishō 1-15)
昭和     Shōwa           1926–1989 (Shōwa 1-64)
平成     Heisei            1989–2019 (Heisei 1-31)
令和     Reiwa               2019 (Reiwa 1)

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Bethom33, 2017 [CC BY 2.0] (Flickr)

食い倒れ

Kuidaore

We have all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. Whether you’re travelling on holiday or simply treating yourself, we simply can’t help but to spend outrageously on food.

食い倒れ (kuidaore; to eat yourself into bankruptcy, or eat till you drop) is derived from a combination of the words 食い (kui; to eat) and 倒れ (taore; bad debt), and is often associated with the proverb 京の着倒れ、大阪の食い倒れ (Kyō no kidaore, Ōsaka no kuidaore; dress yourself into ruin in Kyoto, eat into ruin in Osaka). You may be wondering, how does this proverb relate to 大阪 (Ōsaka)?

If you’ve ever visited 大阪, you would have encountered countless restaurants, bars and food stalls lined on the streets of 道頓堀 (Dōtonbori). In fact, did you know that they even have a museum dedicated to 大阪’s 名物 (meibutsu; specialty), たこ焼き (takoyaki), because that’s how serious 大阪 is about food! And if that wasn’t enough, landmarks including the neon Glico running man sign, the company famous for making ポッキー (pokkii; Pocky) snacks, the large moving crab and blowfish signs hanging above restaurants serve to further declare 大阪’s love for food.

Interestingly, 食い倒れ may also refer to くいだおれ太郎 (Kuidaore Tarō), a red and white clown standing on the streets of 道頓堀. Banging on a drum at the entrance of Nakaza Cui-Daoré Building, he came into prominence after the Japanese media broadcasted his costumes changes according to national events such as cheering for Japanese baseball teams. The next time you’re in 道頓堀, be sure to snap a photo with くいだおれ太郎 and spoil yourself to 食い倒れ!

Shio

Have you ever encountered piles of 塩 (shio; salt) heaped next to the entrance of a Japanese sushi restaurant? These 盛り塩 (morijio; salt piles) weren’t placed there by accident. In fact, salt piles are used to attract customers and drive off bad luck, a practice stemming from an old legend about a Chinese emperor.

塩 itself plays a significant role in Japanese culture, and has varying uses (besides food of course!).

In 神道 (Shintō) for example, 塩 is used as an agent for cleansing and purifying. With its white colour and clarity, this symbol of purity is thrown into the 土俵 (dohyō; sumo-wrestling rings) before and after tournaments. Did you know that over 45 kilograms of salt is thrown in a single day?

塩 is sprinkled over people returning home after a Buddhist funeral in Japan. It is believed that doing so will ward off spirits of the dead away from one’s home.

And last but not least, food! An indispensable part of Japanese cuisine, 塩 is used in food from 醤油 (shōyu; soy sauce) to sea salt ice cream. More importantly, the preservation of food, such as 梅干 (umeboshi; pickled plums) and other 漬物 (tsukemono; pickled things), signifies that 塩 can prevent decay. No wonder this multi-purpose ingredient has been revered since ancient times!

和製英語

Wasei Eigo

Japan has a reputation for making quality “Japan-made” products, but who could have guessed that it also produces “Japan-made” English words? These types of words are called 和製英語 (wasei eigo): English words that have been transformed, remixed and adapted into Japanese to create new meanings.

Not to be confused with 外来語 (gairaigo; loan words), 和製英語 has a Japanese-spin on the meaning of the words. Think of it as Japanese in disguise!

Take for example, the word サラリーマン (sararī man; salaryman), which refers to white-collar workers, especially in Japan. The term is not based on an official English word, but rather, it combines the two English words “salary” and “man” to produce a new “English” word that is totally unique to the Japanese language. This is pretty amazing when you think about it.

和製英語 is common in Japanese, and is widely used in everyday conversation.

Put yourself to the test and try and to guess the meanings of some of these 和製英語! To check if you’ve guessed right, please refer to the answers below.

 

  1. コンセント (consento; consent)
  2. キャッチボール(kyacchi bōru; catch ball)
  3. ペーパードライバー (pēpā doraibā; paper driver)
  4. マイナスドライバー (mainasu doraibā; minus driver)
  5. シャープペンシル (shāpu penshiru; sharp pencil)
  6. プリクラ (puri kura; print club)

 

Answers:

  1. A コンセント actually refers to a power outlet. Imagine a scenario where you are asked for consent to use your コンセント!
  2. This term has two meanings: one is to play catch, and the other refers to a banter-like back-and-forth exchange in conversation.
  3. This refers to people who hold a driver’s licence, but never drive, so their licence is just a meaningless piece of paper.
  4. A マイナスドライバー doesn’t refer to a vehicle operator; instead, it refers to a flat head screwdriver. And just so you know, a プラスドライバー(purasu doraibā; plus driver) refers to a Phillips head (or crosshead) screwdriver.
  5. You may have imagined a pencil that has been sharpened, but a シャープペンシル is actually a mechanical pencil.
  6. A プリクラ is a photo booth often found in arcades and gaming centres all over Japan, where a small group of people can take photos, decorate them and have them printed all in the one place. You may even have encountered some at your local arcade!

ガチャポン

Gachapon

Gachapon is a coin-operated vending machine similar to a gumball machine, however, instead of gumballs, カプセル (kapuseru; capsules) containing おもちゃ (omocha; toys) are dispensed. The name “gacha” and “pon” derives from the sounds made when using the capsule machine. As you spin the dial, the machine makes a “ガチャガチャ” sound, and “ポン” is when the capsule pops out of the machine.

Since their debut in 1965 Japan, they have become so popular that there are even stores dedicated to ガチャポン machines such as ガチャポン会館 (Gachapon kaikan; Gachapon hall) in 秋葉原 (Akihabara). These stores often change the machines every month, so collectors can look forward to finding new toys each time. These toys include フィギュア (figua; figurines) from popular anime and manga, amusing key chains such as 猫寿司 (nekozushi; cat sushi), and even interesting collectibles such as underwear for your drink bottle.

The best thing about ガチャポン is not knowing which toy will come out next. Depending on the machine, it will cost around 100-500 yen per play, so if you ever come across these machines on your next trip to Japan, please give them a spin!

義理チョコ

Giri choko

14 February is the universally recognised バレンタインデー (barentain dei; the Saint Valentine’s Day). In Japan, this is an occasion when women generally give chocolates to men who reciprocate one month later.

There are different types of chocolate giving which are categorised according to the relationship between the giver and the recipient. 義理チョコ (girichoko; obligation chocolate) is given to a colleagues and bosses as a token of gratitude, while本命チョコ (honmei choko; chocolate with true love) is reserved for a romantic partner. There is also 友チョコ (tomo choko) for 友達 (tomodachi; friends).

While 義理チョコ has a role of expressing gratitude and friendship in Japanese society, this commercialised annual event has placed emotional and financial pressure on some women.

Society 5.0

Society 5.0 is the Japanese government’s strategy to tackling challenges by deeply integrating 仮想社会 (kasō shakai; cyberspace) and the physical environment. Announced in 2016, Society 5.0 is also known as 超スマート社会 (chō sumāto shakai; Super Smart Society) and focuses on new technologies. Innovations such as人工知能 (jinkō chinō; artificial intelligence = AI), robots, big data and IoT (Internet of Things)  are expected to not only bring developments to domestic industries but also provide solutions to Japan’s social problems. These issues stem from the 高齢化社会 (kōreika; shakai; aging society) and various aspects of people’s daily lives, such as 交通 (kōtsū; mobility), 介護 (kaigo; caretaking), 農業 (nōgyō; agriculture) and 防災 (bōsai; disaster prevention).

Society 5.0 envisions Japan’s future society as a human-focused society and is the latest in the Japanese government’s series of proposals for improving Japan. Previous visions include 狩猟社会 Society 1.0 (shuryō shakai; hunting society), 農耕社会 Society 2.0 (nōkō shakai; agricultural society), 工業社会 Society 3.0 (kōgyō shakai; industrial society) and情報社会 Society 4.0 (jyōhō shakai; information society).

If you are interested in knowing more about Japan’s challenges, visit the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan’s website.

ご当地グルメ

Gotōchi gurume

ご当地グルメ is a Japanese expression meaning regional specialities, and in most cases refer to fast food. They are affordable and have been associated with 町おこし (machi okosi; town revitalization) over various eras within Japan. Some types of ご当地グルメ are derived from 郷土料理 (kyōdo ryōri; regional cuisines).

Trying out ご当地グルメ is one of the favourite highlights of many Japanese tourists who go on 国内旅行 (kokunai ryokō; domestic trip). You can often find them at パーキングエリア (pākingu eria; highway parking area) and 道の駅 (michi no eki; roadside stations). Local タクシーの運転手 (takushī no untenshu; taxi drivers) may know of delicious but lesser known restaurants.

If you plan to visit local Japanese towns next time, try asking 地元の人 (jimoto no hito; local people) in order to experience ご当地グルメ.

Ref: https://gurutabi.gnavi.co.jp/en/i/gl1/

推しメン

Oshimen 

推しメン (oshimen) is the shortened form of an いち推しメンバー (ichioshi menbā; my recommended/ favourite member), a word often used by fans who 応援する (ōensuru; supports) their 推しメン in アイドルグループ (aidoru gurūpu; idol groups).

In Japanese ポップカルチャー (poppu karuchā; pop culture), many アイドルグループ are made up of a surprisingly large number of members. For example, the famous girls idol group モーニング娘。(mōningu musume) currently consists of 14 members while AKB48’s over 48 members are divided into “teams” within the group. With so many singers to select from, it’s not easy to find an 推しメン.

Incidentally, Japanese アイドル usually refers to “young stars” who generally play very diverse roles in Japanese ポップカルチャー. Many アイドル, both female and male, not only sing and dance but may also host variety programs, take on modelling gigs, and star in films or television series.

邦画

Japanese films 

邦画 (hōga) generally refers to Japanese films and is often used relative to洋画 (yōga; foreign film). During its long history of over hundred years, the 映画産業 (eiga sangyō; film industry) in Japan has been produced films in various ジャンル (janru; genre), such as ドラマ (dorama; drama), ホラー (horā; horror), コメディー  (comedī; comedy), 恋愛 (ren-ai; romance), アクション (akushon; action) and 時代劇 (jidaigeki; period drama), and so on.

Two prominent ジャンル that have originated from Japan are アニメ (anime) and 特撮 (tokusatsu; “special films” that use special visual effects), such as Godzilla. These categories have also become popular among fans around the world. In recent years, Japan’s love of アニメ has sprouted 実写版 (jisshaban; live-action) adaptations of various popular series, ranging from uplifting 青春ドラマ (seishun dorama; teen drama) to outrageous fantasy films. Who knows what 邦画 will bring next?

インスタ映(ば)え

Instagrammable 

インスタ (Insuta) is an abbreviation of the SNSアップ (appu, app) known as Instagram. The app is used to sharing 写真 (shashin; photos) and 動画 (dōga; videos) online with other 利用者 (riyōsha; user). It is becoming increasingly popular in Japan, especially among younger women.

Instagram users can subscribe to another users’ account and become a フォロアー (foroā; follower) to receive notifications when new photos are posted. The photos that インスタグラマー (insutaguramā; Instagrammer) find worthy to post are called インスタ映えする写真 (insutabaesuru shashin; Instagrammable photos). Other users may recognize Instagram-worthy photos by giving them ‘Likes’ in the shape of a heart.

観光地 (kankōchi; tourist spots) are great sites to take インスタ映えする写真. However, new trendy places, such as hotel rooms with nice views, おしゃれ (oshare; stylish) and かわいい (kawaī; cute) restaurants and famous cafés with colorful スイーツ (suītsu; sweets) are also riding on this SNS boom.

カプセルホテル

Capsule Hotel

カプセルホテル (kapuseru hoteru; capsule hotel) is a type of accommodation originating from Japan. Each 部屋 (heya; room) consists of many small pods. Often located near a station, these places are stereotyped as cheap overnight accommodation for drunk サラリーマン (sararī man; office worker) who missed the last train and couldn’t return home.

Recently, its 進化 (shinka; development) is a hot topic in Tokyo. Some カプセルホテル are furbished with attractive ファシリティ (fashiritī; facility), such as アメニティ (amenitī; amenity), コインランドリー (koin randorī; coin laundry), キッチン (kicchin; kitchen) and 女性専用フロア (josei senyō furoa; floor for women only). The small sleeping quarters are not only 便利 (benri; convenient) but are also快適 (kaiteki; comfortable).

Now you can test it for yourself at Australia’s first カプセルホテル which opened in Sydney in May 2017.

回転寿司

Sushi Train

回転寿司 (kaiten-zushi; rotation sushi), commonly known as sushi train in Australia, is also called くるくる寿司 (kuru kuru sushi), an onomatopoeia for “going round and round”. The very first 回転寿司 was opened in 1958 Osaka by Yoshiaki Shiraishi, who found inspiration from a conveyor belt in a ビール工場 (bīru kōjō; brewery). The affordable sushi train gained significant popularity and has become a huge industry in Japan.

回転寿司店 (kaiten zushi ten; rotation sushi shop) are partly セルフサービス (serufu-sābisu; self-service), where customers simply pick up a plate of their favourite sushi from the moving conveyor belt. However, if your desired すしネタ (sushi neta; sushi topping) doesn’t come, you can order it a la carte. さびぬき (sabi nuki; without wasabi) can also be requested. Your eyes may sparkle at the variety of sushi but remember that it is poor manners to directly touch sushi that’s still on the train, let alone return sushi you’ve already picked up.

Reference:
PHP INTERFACE. 2008. Kaiten-zushi maruwakari jiten [回転ずし まるわかり事典]. Tokyo: PHP Institute.

日本の国立公園

National Parks of Japan

Japan is known for its modern cityscapes and traditional sightseeing areas, but did you know that this small country has 34 国立公園 (kokuritsukōen; National Park) and 4 世界自然遺産 (sekaisizen’isan; World Heritage sites)? Japan’s 国立公園 are designated to include privately-owned properties, allowing you to observe the 暮らし (kurashi; livelihood) of residents and the 産業 (sangyō; industries), such as agriculture and forestry.

The ビジターセンター (bijitāsentā; visitor centre) of a 国立公園is a good starting point to discover the surrounding area’s 自然 (shizen; nature) and 歴史 (rekishi; history). Their free パンフレット (panfuretto; pamphlet) contains plenty of information. You can also ask a volunteer ガイド (gaido; guide) to introduce the types of activities you can experience in nature. These include 登山 (tozan; mountain climbing), ハイキング (haiking; hiking), スキー (sukī; skiing), キャンプ (kyanpu; camping), カヌー (kanū, canoeing), シュノーケリング(shunōkeringu; snorkelling) and バードウォッチング (bādowocching; bird watching).

More information is available on the Ministry of the Environment’s website.

レンタル着物

Rental Kimono

There are some老舗呉服店 (shinise gofuku ten; long-established shops) in Kyoto that promote their レンタル着物 (rentaru kimono; rental kimono ) service. The number of tourists who enjoy this handy service is growing year by year.

You can choose your favourite kimono from a wide range of rich 色 (iro; colours) and デザイン (dezain; designs). There is no need to worry about 着付け (kitsuke; putting on the kimono), because it’s banded in convenientセットプラン (Setto puran; set plans) which also includes帯 (obi; sash), 足袋 (tabi; toe socks), 草履 (zōri, Japanese style sandals) and バック(baggu, bag) . The outfit is available for both 女性 ( josei; women) and 男性 (dansei; men).

On your next trip, the レンタル着物 will make your dream come true — to stroll around an old town wearing a traditional Japanese outfit.


© Kyoto Tourism Council

わび・さび
Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophical concept seen in traditional Japanese arts, such as 茶道 (sadō; tea ceremony), 俳句 (haiku; a Japanese poem in 5-7-5 syllabic form) and 陶芸 (tōgei; pottery). Its meaning cannot be easily defined with language. Something that is wabi-sabi evokes an inner appreciation of its quiet simplicity and its changing form over time. For example, think back to your visit to an old and lonely temple or quiet Japanese Zen garden. Were you touched by the beauty of its simplicity?

Like the concept it represents, the meaning of the word wabi-sabi is interpreted differently in the West. Since the beginning of 2017, wabi-sabi has been trending in media in the US, becoming the latest lifestyle concept after 2016’s Danish word hygge.  In France, you can visit the WABI-SABI pavilion at the ジャパン・エキスポ (Japan Expo) in July 2017, which will introduce 伝統文化 (dentō bunka; traditional arts) of Japan. Wabi-sabi may become a universal word in the near future, used in not only Japanese culture but also the areas ofファッション (fasshion; fashion) and インテリア (interia; interior design).


© Kyoto Tourism Council

プレミアムフライデー
Premium Friday

プレミアムフライデー (puremiamu furaidē; Premium Friday) is a government-backed campaign aimed at boosting Japan’s consumer spending. Launched on 24 February 2017, the initiative encourages companies to let their employees leave work at 3 pm on the last Friday of each month and invites 消費者 (shōhisya; comsumers) to spend more on their “long” weekend.

小売業 (kourigyō; retailers)  and サービス業 (sābisugyō; service-sector) companies are joining the movement. For example,レストラン (resutoran; restaurants), デパート (depāto; departments stores), ホテル (hoteru; hotels), and 旅行会社 (ryokōgaisha; travel agents) have started offering special rates and discounts on Premium Friday.

The 政府 (seifu; government) is also spearheading the campaign as a part of the 働き方改革 (hatarakikata kaikaku; ”work style reform”) to reduce Japan’s long working hours. However, it will take time for プレミアムフライデー campaign to take root. Travellers to Japan should keep an eye out for good deals on the last Friday of each month.


© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau

聖地巡礼 
Pilgrimage

The word 聖地巡礼 (seichi junrei) means pilgrimage. In particular, it is 巡礼 (junrei; pilgrimage) to some kind of 聖地 (seichi; holy ground).  However, this word has also come to refer to a kind of holy ground that you may not expect.

The settings of many of Japan’s anime series and films are based on real world locations, which fans sometimes seek out and visit. This alternative 聖地巡礼 involves travelling to the ロケ地 (rokechi; location of filming) to experience a piece of one’s favourite show. Many visitors try to recreate shots from the show in their own photos.

One very recent addition is the hit movie 君の名は (kimi no na wa; Your Name), released in 2016. The film brought a large number of visitors to the regional town of 飛騨市 (hida shi; Hida), in Gifu prefecture, in addition to other locations like the stairs in the photo, a spot in Tokyo not far from 四ッ谷駅 (yotsuya eki; Yotsuya station). An older example is the animeらき☆すた (raki suta; Lucky Star). One of the main ロケ地 for this show is 鷲宮神社(washinomiya jinja; Washinomiya Shrine) in Saitama prefecture. Due to the popularity of the show, this place has now become a hub for all things Lucky Star. Even the 絵馬 (ema; wooden plaque marked with a wish) left by visitors are adorned with cute drawings from the show.


Nao Iizuka (CC BY 2.0) (Flickr)


風子戦記 @mo_om921 (Twitter)


Snow

Here’s one sure way to beat the heat this summer; head to Hokkaido! Just imagine that you’re cooling off in the winter climate, surrounded by all that 雪 (yuki; snow). While you’re there, you go racing down the slopes on your skis, churning up the 粉雪 (kona yuki; powdered snow) as you fly past, enjoying the cool air. You stop at the bottom of the hill and bend to pick up a handful of snow, watching as the fine powder trickles through your fingers. That is さらさら(sara sara), the fine texture of the powdered snow on the ski slopes.

If you’d rather slow things down, why not try building your own 雪だるま(yuki daruma; snowman)? If you head to a slightly warmer area, you’ll find ぼたん雪(botan yuki). This kind of snow is made up of larger flakes, and clumps together better than 粉雪(kona yuki). Better yet, you can 丸める(marumeru; make round) this snow into a 雪玉(yuki dama; snowball). Just be careful, or you might get caught up in a 雪合戦(yuki gassen; snowball fight)!


Miki Yoshihito, 2016 [CC BY 2.0] (Flickr)


Mark Resch, 2006 [CC BY 2.0] (Flickr)

略す
Abbreviate

あけおめ、ことよろ!(akeomekotoyoro) is something that you might receive as a text message from your Japanese friend at the start of the year. It is common to 略す(ryakusu; abbreviate) phrases in Japanese by taking a few characters from each word. There are actually two phrases here, the first being あけおめ, or あけましておめでとう (akemashite omedetō; happy New Year’s). This greeting can only be used after New Year’s, to celebrate the beginning of the New Year.

The second is ことよろ, or ことしもよろしく (kotoshimo yoroshiku), a phrase which conveys goodwill for your relationship with someone for the year ahead. Use this to let your Japanese friend know that you want to get along well with them for another year.

You’ll find a lot of these 略語 (ryakugo; abbreviated words) in Japanese, such as パソコン (pasokon), short for パーソナルコンピュータ(pāsonaru konpyūta; personal computer), or the world famous franchise ポケモン(pokemon), short for ポケットモンスター(poketto monsutā; pocket monster). Did you know that 教科書 (kyōkasho; textbook) is actually short for 教科用図書 (kyōka yō tosho)? The more Japanese words you learn, the more abbreviations you’ll discover, so keep an eye out!

If you’re headed to Japan for the ski season, why not balance out the cold temperatures with a dip in one of Japan’s famous 温泉 (onsen; hot springs)? You might even be able to visit a 露天風呂 (rotenburo; open-air hot spring) and enjoy the refreshing winter air. 温泉(onsen) have been used by Japanese people for hundreds of years, not only for washing, but also as a communal place for いやし(iyashi; healing relaxation). As a result there is a unique エチケット (echiketto; ettiquette) to be mindful of if you visit one. That’s why this month, we are talking about 温泉の入り方 (onsen no hairikata; how to enter hot springs)

The 温泉 (onsen) is a shared public space, so it is important to be respectful of others. Be sure to greet other patrons and wash your body at the 洗い場 (araiba; washing space) before approaching the 浴槽 (yokusō or 湯船 (yubune); bath), to ensure that the water stays clean. Before 入浴(nyūyoku; entering the water), you should perform 掛け湯 (kakeyu) by using a bucket to rinse your body with hot water. Be sure to get rid of all traces of soap on your body, and use this chance to adjust to the water temperature.

In Japan it is not considered 恥ずかしい (hazukashī; embarrassing) to enter the 温泉(onsen) naked. However, you often see people wearing a タオル (taoru; towel) in Japanese TV shows, even 入浴中 (nyūyokuchū; while in the bath). This is only for entertainment purposes, so please leave your towel outside of the bath, to keep lint from entering the water.

Visiting an 温泉 (onsen) is very relaxing and you should enjoy it, but please be careful of 湯あたり (yuatari; bath dizziness) and don’t stay in too long. We hope that you’ll enjoy visiting 温泉!

You may have already heard of the word おもてなし (omotenashi; hospitality), as its popularity has increased since becoming a keyword in the bid for the 2020 東京オリンピック (tōkyō orinpikku; Tokyo Olympics). The true meaning of おもてなし stretches beyond the simple meaning of its English translation. It is an underlying part of Japanese culture, said to originate from 茶道 (sadō; tea ceremony). During tea ceremony, the host aims to もてなす (motenasu; entertain) their guests. The host will try to anticipate and meet their guests’ every need, without expecting anything in return.

You may have experienced this hospitality already when walking into a Japanese store and hearing a chorus of いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase; welcome), or when the cashier carefully gives your card back with both hands. In Japanese, customers and guests are both referred to as お客さん (okyaku-san), which is a sign of how well customers are treated. Of course, you don’t need to work in a Japaneseコンビニ (konbini; convenience store) to practice おもてなし, you can do it anytime to make someone feel welcome.

If you’d like to know more about おもてなし, you can come along to our upcoming 水引 (mizuhiki; decorative paper cord) workshop in November, where you can explore the spirit of おもてなし together with the Japanese customs of gift-giving.

Is anison a new Japanese word? As you may have guessed, anison is a compound word derived from アニメ (anime) and ソング (songu; song), and has been a growing trend in the J-Pop music scene for two decades. A large number of アニソン (anison) titles either originated from or are featured in Japanese anime.

Perhaps the 21st century will soon be defined as the height of アニソン in J-Pop history. キャラソン (kyara-son; character song) song by 劇中アイドル (gekichuu aidoru; anime idols) in アイドルアニメ (aidoru anime; idols anime) are frequently sung during Japanese pop song TV shows, and anison are often listed on Japan’s mainstream music ヒットチャート (hitto chaato; charts). Today, audiences fill up the 日本武道館 (Nippon budookan), a famous Tokyo concert hall, for live performances of anison by 声優 アーティスト(seiyuu aathisuto; voice actor artist).

If you’d like to enjoy this Japanese trend, simply round up some friends and head over to your nearest カラオケ (karaoke). During your next visit to Japan, you can also try going to a 夏フェス (natsu fesu; summer festival), where you could meet anison artists.

This month, we’re continuing the theme of 仏教 (bukkyō; Buddhism) related articles. Have you ever wondered how a Buddhist might pay their respects to Buddha?

One answer is 声明 (shōmyō; chanting). This is just one of many Buddhist practices, and is sometimes performed in front of a 仏壇 (butsudan; Buddhist altar). The practice is just a little bit musical, with the 声明 varying in pitch and rhythm. Usually the chanting is a reading of お経 (okyō; sutras), which are Buddhist scriptures.

However, what if your voice was tired, or you wanted to pay your respects quietly? Why, simply try a spot of 写経 (shakyō; hand-copying sutras) instead! 写経 involves carefully copying お経 by hand, paying attention to your 習字(shūji; calligraphy). This calming activity is a form of meditation.

© Kyoto Tourism Council

© Kyoto Tourism Council

Every year in Japan around August 13-16, most people head back to their 実家 (jikka; parents’ home) and gather with their families to honour the spirits of their ancestors. This is a custom from 仏教 (bukkyou; Buddhism) called お盆 (obon).

お盆 begins with a 迎え火 (mukaebi; welcome fire) and 提灯 (chouchin; lanterns) being lit to guide spirits back to their homes. お墓参り(ohaka mairi; visiting and cleaning your ancestors’ graves) takes place, 盆踊り (bon odori; a dance to welcome and honour the spirits) is performed, and offerings of food and drinks are laid at the 仏壇 (butsudan; Buddhist altars).

The word お盆 can also refer to the food trays on which such offerings or dishes are placed. Finally, お盆 comes to an end with an 送り火 (okuribi; fire to see off the spirits) and lanterns being lit once again, this time to send the spirits back to the world of the dead.

お盆 is one of the most important events during the year in Japan. With many people travelling home, the roads and public transport get incredibly packed, and often smaller shops close during this お盆休み (obon yasumi; obon holiday) period – something to keep in mind if you’re about to head over for a holiday.

Do you enjoy making terrible ダジャレ (dajare; puns) that cause people to groan and roll their eyes? Soon you’ll be able to do that in Japanese too! Here are some of the best (and worst) Japanese puns.

First, there’s 「アルミ缶の上にあるみかん」 or “arumi kan no ue ni aru mikan”, which translates to “the mandarin that is sitting on top of the aluminium can”. It’s a play on the similar sounding words アルミ缶 (arumi kan; aluminium can) and (上に) あるみかん ([ueni] aru mikan; the mandarin sitting on top), and is a well-loved classic ダジャレ which can be slipped into the conversation whenever you have a mandarin and a can of soft drink handy.

Another classic is 「布団が吹っ飛んだ」 or “futon ga futtonda”, which means “the futon was blown away”. Again, this is a play on the similarity between 布団 が (futon ga; the futon was) and 吹っ飛んだ (futtonda; to be blown away). The downside is that it might be slightly harder to naturally use this ダジャレ in your everyday life.

Finally, there’s 「トイレに行っといれ」or “toire ni ittoire”, which means “off you go to the toilet!” The phrase 行っておいで (itteoide; off you go) has been modified to become 行っといれ (ittoire) so that it sounds more similar to the word トイレ (toire; toilet), thus creating the pun.

If you know or have come up with any good Japanese ダジャレ, we’d love to hear them! Shoot us an email with your best ダジャレ at jnewsletter@jpf.org.au

While Japan’s seismic nature gives rise to her beautiful mountains and hot springs, natural disasters are a reality. And since there’s no way of knowing when the next 地震 (jishin; earthquake) or other natural 災害 (saigai; disaster) may occur, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with a few words and phrases relevant to 防災 (bousai; disaster prevention).

For example, if you happen to be in Japan under these circumstances, you may hear an announcement such as 「緊急地震速報です」(kinkyuu jishin sokuhou desu), meaning, “This is an emergency earthquake warning.” You may have to take part in a 避難 (hinan; evacuation), and be wary of 余震 (yoshin; aftershocks) or 津波 (tsunami) warnings as well.

It’s also important to have a 非常袋 (hijou bukuro; emergency bag) packed and ready just in case disaster strikes and be aware of nearby 非常口 (hijou guchi; emergency exits).

This may seem over the top, but as the saying goes: 「備えあれば憂いなし」 (sonae areba urei nashi), which translates to “if you are well prepared, there’s no need to worry.”

Stay safe, and our hearts go out to those affected by the Kumamoto earthquakes.

The word 珍道具 (chindogu) comes from combining the words 珍 (chin; rare or strange) and 道具 (dougu; implement or device), and refers to inventions that are useful but almost useless. These “unuseless inventions” are the brainchild of 川上賢司 (Kenji Kawakami), a Japanese 発明者 (hatsumeisha; inventor).

An example of a particularly unuseless 珍道具 is the 「つま先傘」 (tsumasaki gasa; literally toe umbrella) which are shoes with tiny umbrellas sprouting from the toes for protection against the rain. Another is the「頭上トイレットペーパー」 (zujou toiretto peh-pah; literally overhead toilet paper), otherwise known as the “Hay Fever Headset”, a contraption where you can strap a toilet paper roll to your head to be used when hay fever strikes.

Another surprising example of a 珍道具 actually invented back in 1983 was the “Self Portrait Camera Stick”, or as we now know it, the 自撮り棒 (jidoribou; selfie stick). Not even Kenji Kawakami would have been able to guess that this relatively unknown 珍道具 would eventually become a device used all around the world.

カラオケ (karaoke; literally ‘empty orchestra’) as you probably already know, is an extremely popular activity around the world, involving getting together with friends and belting out a few of your favourite tunes to a pre-recorded backing track.

In Japan カラオケ is so popular that the average person will have an 十八番 (ohako; a standard song that they’re particularly good at singing and can use to show off their skills) up their sleeve.

There are even special places in Japan you can go to sing カラオケ to your hearts content by yourself, an activity otherwise known as ヒトカラ (hitokara). This word comes from a combination of the words ひとり (hitori; one person) and カラオケ.

However the newest カラオケ related phenomenon to emerge from Japan is ボルカラ (borukara). ボルカラ is an amalgamation of two unlikely activities; ボルダリング (borudaringu; bouldering, or rock climbing without a harness) and カラオケ. Recently the world’s first ボルカラ joint opened up in 河原町 (Kawaramachi) in 京都 (Kyoto), so that those who are up for a challenge can go sing songs and climb a wall at the same time.

Bouldering image: By Usien (Own work) CC
BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What is a 舞妓 (まいこ; maiko), and how exactly do they differ from 芸子 (げいこ; geiko) or芸者 (げいしゃ; geisha)?

Both geisha and geiko are traditional female entertainers, but while geisha is a term used to refer to entertainers in Tokyo, geiko refers to those in Kyoto.

Maiko are apprentices in Kyoto who go through years of rigorous training before becoming recognised as a geiko. During their apprenticeship they take classes to master a variety of skills, for example the art of conversation and dance, and how to expertly play traditional instruments like the 三味線 (shamisen; a three-stringed lute with a square body) or 箏 (koto; a thirteen-stringed wooden instrument).

Maiko also have elaborate 日本髪 (nihongami; traditional Japanese hairstyles) which vary depending on their rank and occasion. While geiko use wigs, maiko grow their own hair and go to a special 日本髪 hairdresser once a week to get their hair done. As a result, maiko have to sleep on a 高枕 (takamakura; literally a high pillow) at night to maintain their elaborate do all week and keep it from unravelling.

Experience a rare 舞妓 and 芸子performance at our “Jewels of Kyoto” event held in Sydney and Perth. For more details.

Decluttering your home or 整理整頓 (seiriseiton) is a great way to begin the new year afresh, and some serious 掃除 (souji; cleaning) and 片付け (katazuke; tidying up) might be in order if you had a bit too much fun over the Christmas holidays.

You may even want to go all out with your spring cleaning and 断捨離 (danshari), a popular concept involving radically minimalising the items you own. The phrase stems from three words: 断る (kotowaru; to refuse, as in refusing to keep unnecessary items), 捨てる (suteru; to throw away), and 離れる (hanareru; to separate, in this case from your attachment to items).

Better yet, why not enlist the help of a 片付けコンサルタント (katazuke konsarutanto; tidying consultant) and use the methods of internationally acclaimed decluttering guru 近藤麻理恵 (Marie Kondo) to “Kondo” your life. That’s right, this guru is so popular her name has even become a verb. Her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” is all about the art of decluttering and has become a worldwide bestseller, leading her to be named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people last year.

Make a fresh start this year with the magical art of 整理整頓, by checking out こんまり (konmari; the names Kondo and Marie combined)’s book in our library.

2. By Own work (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


1. By Wjablow (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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